Middle Tennessee (6-3) at South Alabama (2-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 17, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Ladd Peebles Stadium (40,646) -- Mobile, Alabama. Television: None. Home Record: MTSU 2-2, USA 2-3. Away Record: MTSU 4-1, USA 0-5. Neutral Record: MTSU 0-0, USA 0-0. Conference Record: MTSU 4-1, USA 1-5. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders try to continue their run to a Sun Belt Conference championship on Saturday afternoon when they travel to Mobile to take on the South Alabama Jaguars.
Middle Tennessee has put together one of the more surprising seasons in the Sun Belt. At 4-1 in conference play, the only reason it is in second place is because it has played one fewer game than first-place Arkansas State. The Blue Raiders have won back-to-back bouts at home against North Texas (38-21) and on the road against Western Kentucky (34-29) to become bowl eligible for the third time in four seasons. If all goes well, they will be playing for the conference crown on Dec. 1 against ASU.
South Alabama's first season in the Sun Belt has been a challenge, with its lone conference win coming in double-overtime against Florida Atlantic on Oct. 20, 37-34. The Jaguars' loss to North Texas last week (24-14) was their fifth on the road, but they have played admirably at Ladd Peebles Stadium (2-3).
This bout marks the first-ever meeting between these two new conference rivals.
The Blue Raiders have been able to keep pace in the high-flying Sun Belt Conference by putting up 30.6 ppg and 415.2 ypg. They are also one of the best teams in the league in terms of third-down conversions (46 percent).
Logan Kilgore has held up to his end of the bargain under center, as he is completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 2,048 yards and 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Only WKU's Kawaun Jakes has a greater efficiency rating than Kilgore among starting Sun Belt QBs (153.0).
Middle Tennessee suffered a huge blow a few weeks back when Benjamin Cunningham (600 yards, 11 TDs) suffered a season-ending knee injury, but Jordan Parker (483 yards, two TDs) has filled in nicely in the backfield. The freshman tallied career-highs in both carries (32) and yards (149) in the team's latest win.
Kilgore has the luxary of throwing the ball to one of the most trusted receivers in the conference in Anthony Amos (58 receptions, 860 yards, eight TDs), who has four 100-yard receiving games on the year.
The defense has not played especially well (28.7 ppg, 440.9 ypg), although it forced two turnovers against WKU its last time out.
The unit has difficulty getting after the quarterback with just 12 sacks through nine games. Craig Allen has a team-high 67 tackles.
The South Alabama offense ranks last in the Sun Belt in scoring (19.1 ppg), but it has found some life in recent weeks with a new quarterback at the helm.
Ross Metheny has been far from perfect, as he has completed less than 55 percent of his passes for 1,488 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions, but he has proven to be much more effective at moving the ball down field than his predecessor, C.J. Bennett (543 yards, three TDs, four INTs). Metheny has thrown for at least 200 yards in four of his last five games.
Jereme Jones (391 yards) and Bryant Lavender (265 yards) are tied for the team-lead with 33 receptions, but it has been Jones who has been much more successful in the red zone with six touchdowns. Lavender is still without a score.
Demetre Baker has had success running the ball behind a suspect offensive with 595 yards and three touchdowns on 118 carries. Kendall Houston (185 yards, 2.6 ypc) has not had the same luck.
The Jaguars defense (28.8 ppg) has played better than the scoreboard would indicate, as its 358.5 ypg is the second-lowest yield in the league. They allowed just 303 yards to North Texas a week ago.
Jake Johnson quarterbacks the defense with 98 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss, both team-highs. Tyrell Pearson has picked off three passes and batted down seven others, and Terrell Brigham has accounted for four takeaways (two INTs, two fumble recoveries).
As the season goes on, USA has been more and more competitive, even if its record doesn't indicate it. That said, Middle Tennessee is a team on a mission and a road game against a two-win squad is hardly an insurmountable obstacle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Middle Tennessee 31, South Alabama 21
11/14 10:44:00 ET